The Potsdam Quartet at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Programme Notes, Theatre

The Potsdam Quartet by David Pinner

Directed by Anthony Biggs
Oct – Nov 2013
Jermyn Street Theatre

As they headed to the Potsdam Conference with Stalin in July 1945, the most important fact that faced Churchill and Truman was the frustratingly unalterable presence of four times as many Soviet troops in Europe as there were British and American forces. Plus, the Soviets had twice as many tanks. Those troops weren’t going anywhere in a hurry, and, at the time,

The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room

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The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter

Directed by Jamie Glover
Oct -Nov  2013
The Print Room

The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room
Clive Wood as Ben and Joe Armstrong as Gus
© Nobby Clark

The Dumb Waiter was written in the summer 1957, when it was one of the first three plays that came in quick succession from Harold Pinter, the other two being The Room and The Birthday Party. The outraged reception that greeted The Birthday Party in 1958 did nothing to dissuade Pinter from writing and from getting what he had already written produced. The Dumb Waiter premiered in Frankfurt in 1959 and in London at Hampstead Theatre Club in January 1960, having already been turned down by the BBC’s Michael Barry because he deemed it “too obscure” for the television audience.

Perhaps Barry was right, as literary commentators continue to find more angles from which to discuss this one-act play about two hitmen waiting to kill in a basement flat somewhere in Birmingham on a Friday. When he saw it in 2007, Michael Billington said The Dumb Waiter reminded him of the scene between Clarence’s murderers in Richard III. Everyone seems to think of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1953). And everyone agrees that Ben and Gus are very funny – Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy get mentioned — and pretty scared, though of exactly what is not quite clear, nor is supposed to be. In his biography of Pinter, Billington points out that the playwright was “radically different, even revolutionary” in wanting his audiences to complete his plays, to resolve in their own ways these irresolvable matters.

What no one can ignore are Pinter’s comments in a 1988 interview: “My earlier plays are much more political than they seem on the face of it. . . . I think that . . . The Birthday Party, The Dumb Waiter and The Hothouse are metaphors, really. . . . They’re much closer to an extremely critical look at authoritarian postures – state power, family power, religious power, power used to undermine, if not destroy, the individual, or the questioning voice, or the voice which simply went away from the mainstream and refused to become part of an easily recognisable set of standards and social values.”

Pinter was not admitting as much in 1962, when he made a speech that opened with a rejection: “I’m not an authoritative or reliable commentator on the dramatic scene, the social scene, any scene. I write plays, when I can manage it, and that’s all.” Perhaps it was the notion of being an authority figure that he was essentially rejecting. Then he was intent on emphasizing that another form of communication was going on beneath the words of his characters, most of which were coverings for their “nakedness”: “Between my lack of biographical data about them and the ambiguity of what they say lies a territory which is not only worth of exploration but which it is compulsory to explore.”

The Last Yankee at The Print Room

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The Last Yankee by Arthur Miller

Directed by Cathal Cleary
Sept – Oct 2013
The Print Room

The Last Yankee at The Print Room

Matilda Ziegler as Patricia and
Paul Hickey as Leroy
© Ellie Kurttz

The Last Yankee began life as a twenty-minute piece about two men waiting in the visitors’ room of a large state mental hospital in a nice New England town. It featured in a one-act play festival at the New York Ensemble Theatre in 1991, and its good reception there prompted Arthur Miller to expand it to two acts for productions in New York and London in 1993. But perhaps Miller’s most significant

Tutto Bene, Mamma? at The Print Room

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Programme Notes, Theatre

Tutto Bene, Mamma? adapted by April de Angelis
from play by Gloria Mina

Directed by Ewan Marshall
June-July 2013
The Print Room

There are experimental plays set in the dark whose darkness forms an integral part of their playwrights’ first conceptions. Peter Shaffer’s 1965 farce Black Comedy opens in darkness but outrageously stages its performed blackouts in light. Samuel Beckett did not want All That Fall (1956) staged at all because

On Approval at the Jermyn Street Theatre

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On Approval by Frederick Lonsdale

Directed by Anthony Biggs
April 2013
Jermyn Street Theatre

In the 1920s, especially after his 1923 production Aren’t We All?, Frederick Lonsdale could walk the streets of London and New York assured that his attention would be sought and courted just about everywhere that mattered to him. The finest hotels and restaurants lay at his feet. Newspapermen noted his sayings and doings. Having written a number of successful musicals as well, Lonsdale delighted in

Molly Sweeney at The Print Room

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Molly Sweeney by Brian Friel

Directed by Abigail Graham
March-April 2013
The Print Room

Molly Sweeney at The Print Room

Stuart Graham as Mr. Rice, Dorothy Duffy as Molly Sweeney, Ruairi Conaghan as Frank Sweeney
© Tristram Kenton

In the summer of 1992, the man widely considered Ireland’s greatest living playwright learned that he had cataracts in his right eye, and, a year later, Brian Friel underwent two operations to have the cataracts removed. In between the diagnosis and procedural cures, Friel conceived, researched and wrote much of Molly Sweeney. While working on the play, he had to put up with eye pain, bouts of distorted vision and uncertainty over how well he

The Hairy Ape and the Pursuit to Belong by Eugene O’Neill

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Programme Notes, Theatre

Theatre & Performance Guide and Guru 6

Summer 2012:  36-39

The brooding, never-satisfied Eugene O’Neill (1888-1953) hardly ever went to the theatre. Every five years or so he would visit some European country and see one of his plays in a language he could not understand. But he did not bother seeing his plays in British or American theatres as he expected disappointment. We can only wonder what O’Neill would have made of the London productions of two plays launched this spring. While Long Day’s Journey into Night (1956) starring David Suchet at the Apollo Theatre has gained the lion’s share of media attention, the lesser-known

Pepper’s Ghost – A Brief History

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Programme Notes, Theatre

Toujours et Près de Moi

Directed by Patrick Eakin Young
Opera Erratica, combining holograms with Renaissance madrigals,
May 2012
The Print Room

The Victorians loved ghosts. Their grandparents had relished the terror of 1790s “gothic entertainments” where, by means of magic lanterns, images of ghosts and skeletons had flitted above them and left the more delicate ladies fainting. Then came writers like Charles Dickens and Edward Bulwer Lytton, who, with their various haunted tales, further stoked the public’s fascination with

Uncle Vanya at The Print Room

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Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov

Directed by Lucy Bailey
March-April, July 2012
The Print Room

First performed in 1899 and subtitled Scenes from a Country Life, Uncle Vanya is a revision of an unsuccessful play produced ten years earlier, Wood Demon, in which the wild spirits of Slavic folklore are harnessed to evoke the magic of the woods. Chekhov wrote to a friend in 1892: “It’s wonderful in the forest. Landowners are very stupid to live in parks and orchards, and not in the forest. In the forest you can feel the presence of divinity.” In 1892 the playwright had just bought himself the 500-acre

Deconstructing Tennessee Williams

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Programme Notes, Theatre

Theatre & Performance Guide and Guru 3

August 2011:  18-19

Kingdom of Earth at The Print Room

Fiona Glascott as Myrtle and David Sturzaker as Chicken
© Sheila Burnett

After a wait of 27 years, Tennessee Williams’ darkly comic Kingdom of Earth (1968) has finally been produced again in London, at Lucy Bailey and Anda Winters’ new 80-seat theatre, the Print Room.  In 1984 Hampstead Theatre mounted the only previous London production of this play about a battle for an about-to-be flooded Mississippi farmhouse.  Then, as with the 1978 production at the Bristol Old Vic and as with all of the major U. S. productions, Kingdom of Earth received mixed or rather poor reviews.  

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